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Blazers Forward Corps, Fox Steals Crown From Kings

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The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Sacramento Kings 115-108 on opening night of the 2022-23 NBA Season. The match was fiercely contested from start to finish, with the virtual tie being broken by Portland’s forwards’ game against Kings guard De’Aaron Fox’s smashing score.

If you want to see a quarter-by-quarter description of the transaction, you can find it in our Instant Summary. After reviewing that, there are a dozen or so factors that affect gameplay.

Inner Offense

The Blazers showed a clear and persistent commitment to getting the ball in the lane this game. They tried 28 3-pointers, but got 56 points in the paint. This is a reversal of their traditional norms. They didn’t dodge the long ball, but it wasn’t their first option. Instead, they pushed inside for turnstiles or kickbacks. The constant lane attack had the side benefit of fouling. Portland attempted 33 free throws tonight and took HECK away from the Sacramento crowd.

Running a lot

Slowing down the pace on rebounds and turnovers was an important part of Portland’s offense. Whenever the ball changed sides, they played opportunistically. It was as fast and hard as we’ve seen a team of Blazers running forever. Quick breaks have long been a dead zone for Portland. They scored 20 away points tonight. Not bad.

16 forced turnovers were no problem. It would be an exaggeration to say that Portland defended well, but they kept their hands busy and tried hard stealing. Once they got one, they went to the races.

Center Screens

The Blazers had some trouble when they got stuck in the half court. None of the ball players could beat Sacramento’s young and active defenders alone. When it comes to one-on-one play, the Blazers fell short with free throws from the whistles that provided the only real relief.

They fixed this issue a bit with the middle screens. Blazers are neither deep nor overly skilled in the mids, but the tall ones can stand upright and absorb a blow. With centers picking from multiple locations on the field, Portland’s guards found stitches they couldn’t create themselves. For Anfernee Simons, that was enough. Sometimes it was for Lillard, too. Alternatively, the guards made passes against a collapsing Sacramento defense and found them forward in the bow or rim.

Screen setup was one of the most consistent aspects of Portland’s half-court offense tonight. They deserve plenty of credit for sticking to the plan and making it work.

Up and Down Lillard

Damian Lillard looked absolutely confident as he spoke for the first time in ten months. His shot did not follow him into the field. Occasional three-pointers would look good dropping their hands, but rolling a dice to see where they would hit the hoop. Their rides were hampered by their lack of speed compared to their defenders. When he could get in, he forced a shot over outstretched hands.

To be fair, Sacramento persistently called Dame. He made them pay with a pass game. He seems determined to form teammates and count their points as his.

In his first game of the season, Lillard shot 5-18 from the field and 1-8 from the outside, scoring 20 points and 8 assists.

Simons In and Out

Anfernee Simons claimed responsibility for the internal attack. She didn’t shoot too many three-pointers early on, she focused instead on finding the rim. She shot confidently when she saw the bow clearly. Just not as much as in previous years.

Yet appearing comfortable on the ground is sufficient testimony. Simons was absent pre-season. It’s a good sign for the Blazers that he feels confident in his role.

Simons had 22 points on 9-22 from distance and 3-10 from shooting.

Sharp Game

Shaedon Sharpe broke up on nearly every single driving attempt, but was having a hard time finishing it. Its first two steps looked effortless, but the players looked sideways as they closed.

Still, he had no such problem with the grab-and-shoot trio. These looked sharp and instantaneous. The rookie scored 12 points from the bow 3-3 in his first game in the NBA.

Jury for Nurk

Jusuf Nurkic was part of the impressive screening mentioned above. Full points for that. He also did well on boards with a 7 in 25 minutes.

The rest of the evening was mixed. Nurk looked slow. Aside from the Blazers’ attempt to top it off, both defense and offense seemed to have slowed when he took the field. Nurkic made 4 turnovers and shot 3-9 from the field.

The experiment needs more time, but this is something to watch. There is no option to sit in Nurk. That’s hard when the less skilled centers behind him seem to be playing much faster and at least tonight better.

rebound

If rebounding is going to be an issue for this size-and-mass challenger, it didn’t show up tonight. The Blazers have 11 offensive rebounds, the Kings are only 4th Right, Sacramento isn’t a huge team either, but still promising.

Triple Open

If you’re hoping to get back to Terry Stotts, the three-point attacker of the past, you’ll have to wait a while. Portland shot 39.3% from distance, 11-28. They didn’t produce startups by simply choosing to go in.

Kings had no such problem. Portland has done a reliable job dealing with the snipers one-on-one. They could not close any action. Sacramento shot 17-44 from the bow.

If you’re counting, that’s an 18-point deficit from the arc. This season will be a stat to watch.

Grant Writing

Jerami Grant made a good debut for Portland. He was active on defense as advertised. The Kings scored but not so much in their division. Plus Grant made the most of the opportunity arms. He was sidelined for the catch-and-shoot threes, becoming one of the few Blazers to hit from afar. When he got the ball, he drove fast, either by converting the layups or by changing direction, shooting fouls. He even snatched a few boards on his third, including an impressive offensive rebound and dunk back.

Grant’s stat line was read 23 points in 35 minutes from 5-11 shooting, 3-3 bows, 8 rebounds and 2 steals. If the Blazers get this from him every night, they’ll be so happy.

You must have Hart

Josh Hart was everywhere tonight as usual. His biggest contributions came in the third period. As Portland started trailing in double digits, Hart rushed the field and got the ball in. His layups and short shots provided a consistent stream of points when nothing else worked. His continued aggression was evident. He and Grant really fired up the team in the second half. Hart’s last line of stats read: 19 points, 8-11 shooting, 7 rebounds, 5 assists in 38 minutes.

And Justice For All

Justise Winslow was key to the third and fourth quarters for the Blazers. He defended, turned layups, rebounded and even hit three-pointers. Coach Chauncey Billups kept him in late for an extra amount of time, even when the starters were back. Some of the starters did not come back as Winslow played power forward and center at critical times. This was a testament to his effort. Winslow had 11 points and 8 rebounds (3 offenses) on 5-9 field goal shooting in 26 minutes. That’s one minute more than Nurkic played.

forward thinking

In case it’s not clear, Portland’s forwards—Grant, Hart, and Winslow—won this game for the Blazers in the second half. Their energy, rebound and dedication to driving gave Portland the spark they needed.

Almost Outfoxed

If Portland’s guards faltered during this competition, De’Aaron Fox had no such problem. Sacramento’s quarterback 12-21 hit 33 points on 5-9 shots. The Blazers had no answer for him on the defensive. Get well soon Gary Payton II.

Next

boxscore

The Blazers face the Phoenix Suns in their home game opening game at 7 PM at the Fashion Center in the Pacific on Friday night.

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